current issue button
about TXCC button
back issues button
manuscript guidelines button
resources button
Acquire PDF for full version of this article.
  (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader®)

Texas Parenting News

Bullying: It can happen at home too


Jacob recalls working on the family farm as a child in rural Texas. Every day after school and during the summer, he and his older brother were sent to feed cows, mend fences, and do other chores.

Every day, as soon as they were out of sight of the house, the older brother started picking on Jacob. “He would jab me on the shoulder, punch me in the stomach, and when I started to cry, he would call me a sissy,” Jacob says. “I was afraid to tell my parents, afraid I’d be called a tattletale.”

Occasionally, their mother caught sight of the taunting. “She would tell my brother to stop,” Jacob says, but once her head was turned, the abuse continued. “She never told our dad. I guess she didn’t want to bother him, and she probably figured that he would whip both of us for fighting.”

One day, when Jacob was about 14, he and his brother were loading bales of hay into the back of a pickup. As usual, the older brother began jabbing Jacob with his fist. After one jab that nearly knocked him over, Jacob grabbed a crowbar from the truck bed and held it ready to strike. “That put a stop to it,” Jacob says. “He never hit me again because he knew I’d hit back.”



Jacob, now 55, didn’t know it then, but his older brother’s behavior was what we call bullying today. Bullying has been around a long time but has come to greater public attention in the past 10 years. Typically, it is regarded as something that happens at school, between unrelated classmates.

But more recently, doctors and child advocates warn that bullying also can occur between brothers and sisters. It’s worse than the teasing and bickering known as sibling rivalry, and it can have long-term damage on children’s mental health, resulting in depression and anxiety.

How can you tell if it’s bullying, rather than just squabbling? A reliable indicator is that one child, usually the older or stronger one, is always the bully, and the other child is always the victim. In addition, the bully intimidates or attacks in a way that leaves the other child feeling humiliated, hurt, and fearful.

How do you handle bullying at home? Take it seriously. Step in and stop it. Label the behavior as bullying. Say, “We don’t allow bullying and other abuse in our family.”
If bullying occurs, focus first on the child being bullied. Assure the child that it’s not his or her fault. Ask what you might do to help the child feel safe, perhaps by changing seating or sleeping arrangements.

Make sure the the bullying child understands the specific problem behavior. Hand out the consequences immediately. Consequences may include cleaning up or repairing any damage that might have been done to clothes or furnishings, drawing a picture about the feelings that led to the bullying behavior, writing a story about how it might feel to be bullied, and listing 10 ways that siblings can be kind to each other.

Try to spend extra time with each child, the bully as well as the victim, and talk about their feelings and concerns. Most important, make sure you set a good example as a parent by not yelling, calling names, or hitting your children or anyone else.

If either child has difficulty expressing feelings or changing behavior, consider making an appointment with a counselor or mental health specialist.

For more information about the research, see “When the bully is a sibling,” by Anahad O’Connor, New York Times, June 17, 2013,


Making time for kids: Get organized


Do you find yourself constantly looking for things, tripping over clutter, or never having enough time to play with your kids? Many parents with small children could use a little help in getting organized and simplifying life at home.

Having small children often means lots of changes from one year to the next in clothes, toys, and furniture. Getting organized can help you stay ahead of changes and enjoy time with children.

Four general rules:
1. Keep one. Your children bring home a new art project every week and before long you have dozens, for example. Keep one project the child likes from the month or season, photograph the rest, and throw out the ones you’ve photographed.
2. Remember one-in, one-out. When you bring a new item into your home, take out an old one. You can recycle the old one by selling it or giving it away, or you can put it in the trash.
3. Store objects close to use. Place cook pots near the stove, and dishes near the dishwasher, for example.
4. Childproof the house. Keep infants and toddlers safe by putting away cherished or breakable objects, storing cleaning supplies and medicines out of children’s reach, using washable curtains and slipcovers, and covering electrical outlets, for example.

Consider these tips:

Children’s clothes and toys. If you plan to have more children, place the outgrown items in bins labeled by age, and store them. Otherwise, give the items to a friend or charity, or sell them in a yard sale.

Instead of hanging tiny clothes on hangers, fold the clothes and store them in a chest that you push into the closet. Or use baskets on adjustable shelves that you can change in height as your child grows.

Traditional toy boxes don’t work—everything gets tangled together. Instead, store toys on shelves at child height so children can choose toys and return them after playing. Use see-through bins, one each for small items such as blocks and people figures. Label each bin by taping a photo of the item on the side. Pack up any toys that don’t fit on shelves or in bins and store them. When children get bored with the toys in their room, swap them for those in storage.

Mail, bills, and papers. Select one place for incoming mail, perhaps a basket in the kitchen. Sort the mail over a recycle bin and toss junk mail into it immediately. If you want to look at catalogs or brochures later, put them where you’re most likely to read them, such as on a night stand.

Place bills where you’re most likely to pay them, such as in your purse or on a desk. Consider paying bills online to save trees and stamps.

File receipts, insurance, copies of tax returns, and other important documents in folders with labels in alphabetical order. Keep tax records at least five years. Keep sales receipts for a year and then discard. Shred anything with your name, account number, or Social Security number on it.

To stop unsolicited mail, emails, and phone calls, see the “Privacy & Identity” section of the Federal Trade Commission’s website, Opt out of catalogs you don’t want—a free service—at You can also use a junk mailer’s Business Reply envelope to request that you be taken off the mailing list.

Clip only those coupons for items you buy regularly. Place them in an envelope and keep it in your car so you won’t forget to use them. Better yet: Ignore coupons altogether. Clipping takes time and saves little. Buy in-house brands. Buy in bulk only if you have enough storage.

Cleaning and laundry. Place cleaning supplies in a carry-all basket so you can move from one room to another. You can clean most surfaces with baking soda and water. Spray mirrors and windows with a little white vinegar mixed in water. If you use commercial cleaners, store them in a locked cabinet or out of reach of children.

Streamline bed making by having two sets of same-color sheets, one on the bed and one in the laundry basket. Make bed making easier and quicker by using a comforter or quilt instead of a bedspread. Keep it simple and pare accessories.

Buy only wash-and-wear clothing. Dry cleaning is a hassle, and the chemicals can harm the environment. Unless you really like to iron, don’t.

Instead of doing all chores on the weekend, clean as you go, whenever you notice stains or dust. Or take a few minutes every day for a different chore.

Delegate chores to kids. Most parents want children to be fairly independent by the time they graduate from high school. Help them learn self-care with chores appropriate to their ages.
Children 2-3 years old can pick up their toys and clothes. They can also help feed pets and set the table with placemats and silverware.
Preschoolers 4-6 years old can fold towels, help sweep the floor, water plants, and straighten their beds.
School-agers 7-10 years old can change the sheets on their beds, sweep and vacuum, help make simple dishes such as salads, and prepare their own lunch and snacks.
Pre-teens 11-15 years old can cook many foods, launder their own clothes, mow the lawn, take out trash, wash the car, and clean bathrooms.
Teens 16-18 can clean the house from top to bottom, cook basic meals, buy groceries, balance a checkbook, buy their own clothes on a budget, and run errands.

When first assigning a task, provide training. “Move the chairs to sweep under the table. Sweep everything into the dustpan, like this.” Avoid micromanaging. Give feedback afterward. Discuss what was done well and why, and what might be done differently for better results.

Routines. End frantic mornings by setting out clothes the previous night, including socks and underwear. Have a place near the door for things you need to take with you, such as extra diapers and a library book or video to return. Clothing hooks near the door can hold coats and backpacks.

Establish an evening routine. For example, children may get a snack and play while supper is being prepared, eat supper and help clean up the kitchen, watch a specified TV program if time permits, bathe and brush teeth, read a story, and go to bed.

Limiting TV time helps everyone. It helps preschoolers learn to manage time so when they start to school, they will do homework or read books for knowledge and pleasure. It helps adults calm down after a busy day at work and sleep more peacefully.

Prevent the spread of communicable disease by making sure each family member washes hands before handling food, before eating, and after toileting. Have soap and clean towels by faucets in the kitchen and bathroom.

Photos and artwork. The fridge can hold only so many handprints and collages. Keep one, photograph and toss the rest. You might also display children’s artwork on a clothes drying rack or a clothesline strung across a room.

If you take photos with your cell phone or a digital camera, it’s easy to delete the photos you don’t want. Sort the good photos into folders and store on your computer or a DVD. If you want prints, email them to a photo service. If you want to share photos with relatives, post on a secure site online.

What about old printed photos? Think about who might want them 25 or 50 years from now. Your children? The family genealogist? Scan the ones you want to save. A photo scanning service will charge about 30 cents a photo, but you can do it yourself by buying a photo scanner for as low as $250. Store them on your computer or a DVD. Recycling companies usually accept photographic prints and negatives. Investigate this alternative to the local land fill.

For more tips on organizing, read How to Cheat at Organizing (2007) by Jeff Bredenberg.


Simplify birthday parties


If the thought of planning your child’s birthday party is making you anxious, maybe it’s time to rethink the ritual. The goal is to mark a milestone, not to out-do the celebrations of other children.

A small, simple celebration can be just as much fun and meaningful as a large, extravagant one. Make it appropriate to your child’s age and personality, and be true to family and culture.

If your child is 3 years and older, discus your plans together. Explain your decisions about the date, time, and place, and involve your child in some choices, such as whether to have a big cake or individual cupcakes. Some tips to consider:
Keep the invitation list short. Invite one child guest for every year of the birthday child’s age. That is, one guest for a 1-year-old, two for a 2-year-old, and so forth. On the other hand, if your child is accustomed to large gatherings, you might invite a few more of those most familiar to your child.
Limit the time. One hour is plenty long for a toddler, for example. Specify the pick-up time so parents will know when to retrieve their children.
Invite guests via e-mail or Evite 10 days to two weeks in advance. Ask for a response. That way, if you’re inviting only one or two children and they can’t come, you’ll still have time to invite another child.
Choose a theme that’s meaningful to your child, but go easy on the decorating. Remember that popped balloons can pose a choking hazard to babies and toddlers.
Choose a child-friendly place. Have the party in the den, backyard, or nearby park. Tell everyone to wear play clothes.
Offer simple, low-sugar refreshments such as cheese and crackers, fruit slices, and individual pizzas made from English muffins, for example.
Match the type and number of activities to the birthday child’s age. A 1-year-old will enjoy getting extra attention from grandparents, hearing the birthday song, and trying to blow out the candle. Older children can play dress-up, blow bubbles, or toss bean bags into a box. Because children can quickly get bored, be prepared to add games such as ring-around-the-rosie, hide-and-seek, and duck-duck-goose. Ask your child’s caregiver for other suggestions.
Forget favors and goody bags. The children will quickly tire of them, and their parents will be stuck with the cheap trinkets. On the other hand, you could give longer lasting gifts such as wildflower seeds, or match the favor to the theme. If the theme is space travel, for example, you might give star cookie cutters.
Rethink gifts. For preschoolers, consider asking guests to give books or art supplies. Negotiate with older children about setting a dollar limit, listing gifts that match a theme or interest, or asking guests to donate to a charity. Ask family members to give money for the child’s college fund. This saves your having to throw out junk you don’t want, and it helps children start thinking about their future education and others less fortunate.
Accept offers of help. Aunt Evelyn can cut and serve the cake, your sister can take photos, and Bobby’s mother can help clean up. This allows you to celebrate along with your child.